I’m frequently accused (by one MFW commenter in particular) of donning the yellow and green-tinted spectacles. Well, even when wearing them, what unfolded in front of us last night was not good.
That walk back to the car was a grim experience. Usually, there are one or two positives to hone in on among the handful of negatives but they were scarce last night.
- Another routine 2-0 defeat
- Bottom of the Premier League
- Bereft of confidence
- Brittle at the back
- Toothless up front
- Out-battled in midfield
If you can read between those lines and find something positive then please let me know. I’d genuinely be grateful.
In some ways, the fact the players gave their all and were 100 per cent committed to the cause makes it all the harder to take. There feels – less than nine hours after the final whistle – nowhere to go.
Hopefully when that nine becomes 24+ perspective will kick in.
But on a night when City so desperately needed an early goal to settle the nerves, they instead gifted one to Watford – the only other team in the whole division with similarly low levels of belief and self-confidence. The boost it gave them and their travelling support was tangible.
Sadly, for a team already struggling to collectively believe they belong, it had the opposite effect on City. The doubts and fears that Daniel Farke and his team had spent the week quelling were unleashed in an instant. Less than two minutes were on the clock.
Emi Buendia will, of course, take the brunt of the blame for attempting a drag-back when a drag back was far too high a risk, but equally the way space opened up in front of Deulofeu as he advanced on our penalty box was not of an ilk normally seen at this level.
Buendia never properly recovered. Nor, in truth, did the whole team.
With a rare lead to hang on to, the Hornets did what they had to do.
Farke referred afterwards to City winning the ‘stats’ game in almost every department but given that Watford had a lead to protect from 76 seconds onwards, they were quite happy to sit tight and take whatever we had to throw at them.
Sanchez Flores is defensive-minded by nature – one of the reasons why he was re-signed by the Pozzos – and so with something to protect, he was quite happy to set his team up to soak up pressure. And let’s be honest, for all our huffing and puffing, Ben Foster had by his standards a comfortable night.
I’m afraid having more shots, more possession and having spent the majority game in the opposition’s half counts for diddly-squat when you still don’t look like scoring. It’s worse still when the opposition know if they sit tight and pick their moment a second goal will inevitably arrive.
It’s horribly predictable.
Right now we’re a joy to play against. Last night felt like the ultimate ‘along come Norwich’ moment.
The general consensus is that this is not a good Watford team. Yet there were spells in last night’s first half when it felt like we playing Barcelona.
Visiting teams have not one iota of fear. They know they will score. When we go away, we’re seen as easing pickings. Our opponents know if they do their jobs properly they will win.
It feels that clear cut and Farke is hamstrung. With only one fit centre-back, however he tries to address the most pertinent issue in the team it leaves a weakness elsewhere.
As a River End neighbour put it, a boat with a hole in its hull still has a hole, whether it’s the size of a 1p coin or the size of a football. The water will still come in and it will eventually sink. And while we’re still having to make do at centre-back, that’s how it feels. We’re sinking.
I look at Alex Tettey and I see Simon Charlton – that’s how makeshift it is. But it’s not Tettey at centre-back that’s the problem in itself, it’s the knock-on effect and how it’s impacted on Farke’s options elsewhere.
Premier League midfields are now dominated by technicians who are also athletes. We just have technicians.
We lose out physically far too often and however we like to carve it up, we’re not athletic enough and we’re not strong enough. We lose too many 50/50s, in fact we lose almost all 50/50s.
For me, this was summed up by an incident late in the first half.
Kenny McLean and Abdoulaye Doucouré were grappling for a loose ball, shoulder-to-shoulder, when the Scot lost out and ended up being flung to the floor like a rag doll. The River End howled as one for a foul, Andre Marriner’s parentage was questioned, but he waved play on.
Marriner was right. It wasn’t a foul. Doucouré was just stronger. It happened (and happens) time and time again. And, for me, for all of the problems we are currently encountering, this one is the biggest.
Our lack of physicality is not permitting us the chance to shift the ball through the thirds as we like to. And it certainly doesn’t allow us to win the ball back when we don’t have it.
It also goes without saying that the intricate passing game we used so effectively last season relies on the players being full of confidence and wanting the ball. Being bereft of confidence and now showing for the ball makes for a slog… and right now now that’s exactly how it appears. The joy has gone.
So, where from here?
Well, Team Farke now have two weeks to hopefully get Christoph Zimmermann match-ready if not match-fit and maybe his recall will enable Ibrahim Amadou and/or Tettey to offer us some muscle in an area of the pitch where we are currently powderpuff.
But it’s the mental resilience and belief that also need addressing, and among the daily supplements the players are fed, there, unfortunately, isn’t one that fortifies the bloodstream with confidence. If only.
There is no doubt, we’re also paying the price for a cut-price summer – Farke even alluded to it himself in the week – but as Robin eloquently explained earlier this week, the money simply wasn’t there. It was soaked up by funding substantial new contracts for all of last season’s stars, addressing infrastructure requirements and paying off residual debts.
Under the league’s only self-funding model, good housekeeping is everything, but let’s not kid ourselves this is a bold vision. Under our current ownership, self-funding is a necessity.
But that’s for another day.
It’s going to be a long old two weeks.